Nine more trips around the sun means nine more birthdays, nine more anniversaries and nine more years of beating the odds.
Earlier this month, Bill Wade celebrated 55 years of marriage to his wife, Lou Wade. Earlier this year, he celebrated his 78th birthday. But perhaps most importantly, he recently passed the milestone of nine years since a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
“I can’t believe I’m still alive,” Bill said recently, showcasing the good humor that has helped him endure the surgeries, treatments and associated side effects of the glioblastoma tumors that started growing in his brain nearly a decade ago.
The typical prognosis for people with the rare disease is 15 to 18 months of life. When the Wades got that news after a scan found the growth, a doctor told Bill to get his affairs in order.
“I don’t know how I could put them in more order than I already had,” he said with a shrug and a smile.
But Lou – his partner in both life and business since their college days – took the news much harder. They had just returned to their longtime home in Farmington, Wash., after Bill’s 50th class reunion at North Royalton High School near Cleveland, Ohio.
People there complimented them about how well they looked. So it came as a total shock when she learned that Bill might only have months to live. She couldn’t think or see straight for a few moments.
“It’s like you’re in a war zone,” said Lou, 74.
Bill went straight into an aggressive treatment regimen, including two brain surgeries to remove the tumors. There were also courses of chemotherapy and radiation. And while the side effects were severe, the cancer was gone.
The Lewiston Tribune caught up with Bill and Lou five years ago, and checked in again last week to learn that Bill is still cancer-free and has had no follow-up surgeries or other treatments. In fact, Lou saw fit to take Bill off pills like steroids and anti-anxiety medications because of their unintended consequences.
Bill credited his 60 years of being a vegetarian and a generally clean and low-stress lifestyle with much of his success in beating cancer. He and Lou focus their diet on lots of fruit, vegetables and grains since he gave up eating meat after a stint in a butcher shop during high school.
“It just about turned me inside out to see what they do,” he said, noting he doesn’t eat fish or chicken either. “Or anything that’s got a heartbeat.”
Lou also gave the oncologists and surgeons at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center their due for helping to keep Bill kicking. And the convenience is nothing to sniff at, she added.
“I’m just thankful that we don’t have to go some other place.”
Their faith might be the most important force driving Bill’s recovery. In fact, his frequent dizzy spells can be alleviated by plopping down in his easy chair and focusing on some Bible verses or an inspirational book.
“It brings me out of wherever I’m at in a minute or two,” he said. “It pulls (my brain) into order.”
Surgeons removed significant portions of Bill’s brain, resulting in the loss of some short- and long-term memories and his ability to do any kind of math. He struggled to read, and couldn’t even recognize a clock the first time he saw one after a surgery.
“I said, ‘What’s that for?’”
But he was able to relearn some of those lost skills once Lou stopped many of his medications.
“He’s been an avid reader ever since,” she said.
Reasoned thought remains a struggle, but Bill has been handling it with his characteristic charm and humor.
“It’s a funny thing,” he said, “but I never used to think about what my brain thinks about.”
Bill put his unexpected longevity in perspective by looking at the deaths of two longtime members of the U.S. Senate who had the same type of brain cancer, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and John McCain of Arizona. Kennedy died in 2009, 15 months after announcing his diagnosis. McCain died last month after living a little over a year with his glioblastoma.
“I see this nine years as a gift,” Bill said, noting that his struggles are eased by all the help he gets from Lou and their family. “I don’t want to do something stupid that would bring it to an end. I don’t fear death at all, but there’s times I think I’d welcome death because I’m tired of being tired.”
Then he jerked his thumb in Lou’s direction.
“My survival for nine years is not mine. It’s her that’s brought that about.”